Consumer, Environmental Groups Call for MPG Regulation in Car Ads

Mazda_CX5_ad_MFR

Ever get annoyed when car ads hype pie-in-the-sky mpg figures? Well, you aren't alone. Advertisements are notorious for shilling highway-only mpg, sometimes for specific trims that aren't widely available. Witness a Mazda commercial from 2012 that blared 35 mpg highway for the 2013 CX-5 SUV — an EPA figure only achieved by a front-wheel-drive, manual-transmission model. Or one of Ford's 2011 Fiesta ads that rolled "40 mpg" across the backdrop, which only the automatic SE with the Super Fuel Economy package received in EPA highway ratings.

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Both ads clarified the details in the small print, but you'd have to pause the DVR and get out a magnifying glass to read it. If a group of consumer, environmental and safety advocates get their way, such practices could change.

In a July 10 letter to the Federal Trade Commission, nine groups called for additional regulation around when and how automakers advertise mpg ratings. Specifically, the groups proposed the following:

  • Whenever an ad claims that a certain car is fuel-efficient, EPA gas mileage must clearly be represented.
  • Whenever mpg is advertised, all three EPA figures — city, highway and combined — should be disclosed, with the combined figure emphasized (e.g., mentioned last in a radio ad or shown in the largest text size on TV).
  • For shorter ads, just the combined number is allowable as long as it's clear.
  • Advertised claims for eco-optimized trims under the notion that shoppers could achieve "up to" said mileage should be banned. An automaker should have to emphasize the most popular configuration it expects shoppers to buy, after which it can advertise any mileage for the eco trim.
  • All ads should derive mpg ratings from the EPA and list it as the source.
  • If an ad mentions flex-fuel (e.g., E85) compatibility, then EPA mileage using E85 must be mentioned. (Because of E85's lower energy density, cars that use it see considerably lower fuel economy.)
  • For mpg-equivalent figures on electric cars, ads should disclose that mpg-equivalent ratings are for comparative purposes only. For plug-in hybrids or extended-range EVs, ads should show separate ratings for gasoline and electric performance.

"Advertisements which simply list an mpg rating with no description are clearly and intentionally deceptive," the letter said. "While it is expected that such disclosures would typically use the single (and higher) highway number, most consumers would not know this is a highway-only number."

Backers range from the Sierra Club and Union of Concerned Scientists to the Consumers Union, the lobbying arm of Consumer Reports, and the Consumer Federation of America. The letter comes in response to the FTC seeking comments as part of a regulatory review of the EPA's Fuel Economy Guide announced May 1. At the time, the commission asked for feedback focused "on information that helps marketers avoid deceptive or unfair claims."

"The FTC's concern that mpg advertising disclosure not be deceptive is well founded," the joint letter said. The commission closed comments after July 10, so stay tuned. We'll keep you posted on any decision, and what it means for car ads.

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By Kelsey Mays | July 14, 2014 | Comments (7)

Comments 

Jon

While I don't necessarily think that this should be regulated by law, I am a firm believer that automakers should advertise combined fuel economy rather than the highway figure.

furthermore, i also believe that Consumers Union should allow automakers to post the fuel economy data found by Consumer Reports as it is available (and when it is, the government should require them to do so on window stickers). much like the NHTSA and IIHS, there needs to be a government and private standard of testing for fuel economy. the EPA has gotten better in terms of COMBINED mpg, but it still needs quite a bit of work in city and highway cycles. Consumer Reports has been the most accurate (if worst case scenario) in my experience.

Vik

Kelsey/Ed- spam alert above.

Card13

I agree that combined mileage should be listed because the highway number sets false expectations (yes, people should be smarter and research the full EPA ratings). Many people don't realize that the combined rating differs greatly from the highway figure and that their average will be closer to that number (even if they drive mostly on the highway). Now everyone is thinking that they should be averaging near 40mpg during their daily commute, when they're lucky to hit 30. However, I don't think manufactures should have to advertise the most popular model as long as they say "up to" and clearly show which configuration they are referring to. That's like not being allowed to mention that there is an available V6 if you expect the majority to be I4.

Lance

Dumb down instead of wise up. That seems to be the American way now. Next they will have to explain that not everyone will get the same city MPG because "city" type driving differs tremendously. Duh.

CC

I take the advertised mpg as the mpg you wish you can get.

Lance

My 2013 is supposed to get 22mpg combined. I've driven it for about 13k miles and the trip computer says the avg mpg for the whole time I've owned it is 24.5mpg. I drive mostly suburban Chicago area with about 20% freeway and don't drive a lot in rush hour traffic so not a ton of stop and go. So reaching the combined in easy for me but for someone that has to commute in stop/go traffic in inner city type driving it would be much more difficult.

Dr Bunsen Honeydew

I hate even more the "Up to xx miles on a single tank".

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